General practice management of illicit drug users in Scotland: a national survey

Addiction. 2003 Jan;98(1):119-26. doi: 10.1046/j.1360-0443.2003.00263.x.


Aims: To describe the level of involvement of general practitioners (GPs) in the management of illicit drug dependency; nature of current practice in the management of illicit drug dependency; influence of guidelines on practice; GP training experience and needs; and to consider the policy implications of the findings.

Design: A cross-sectional postal questionnaire survey.

Setting: General practice in Scotland.

Participants: A 1 : 4 randomized sample (n = 926) of general practice principals, stratified according to age, gender and number of practice partners.

Measurements: A structured postal questionnaire.

Findings: A 63% response rate was achieved after two reminders (n = 583). Sixty per cent of respondents treated drug users, 51.5% provided methadone maintenance but only 58% used doses in the recommended range. Maintenance prescribing of dihydrocodeine and benzodiazepines was provided by 24% and 44.8% of respondents, respectively. While 79.3% had received the national clinical guidelines only 22.5% believed this had influenced their practice. Only a third of respondents had received drug dependency training. Beliefs about whether prescribing for drug misusers is part of a GPs professional remit was split.

Conclusions: There was relatively high involvement with drug users, with methadone maintenance being the most common treatment provided. Maintenance prescribing of dihydrocodeine and benzodiazepines were common despite a lack of clinical evidence supporting the effectiveness of these treatments. This may reflect the nature of the presenting drug problems and highlights the difficulties some GPs may face in managing multiple drug dependencies within current guidelines. Further local training to implement guidelines along with trials of alternative treatments currently outwith guidelines should be considered.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family Practice / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Needs Assessment
  • Scotland / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*


  • Illicit Drugs